Donít you consider yourself to be sort of special? A little unique? Well, have you ever experienced making a stopover at a Lookout Point on a high mountaintop where you can see cities down in the valley below? And youíre looking at the world from that elevated point at all those people down there in those villages and farms. And youíre making judgments about themĖtheyíre not making judgments about you. I mean itís true in life that occasionally someone will judge you, by giving you a promotion, or perhaps firing you, but most of the time in life youíre in the coziness of your own little mind created especially for you to make judgments about the world in which you find yourself.
Now thinking like this leads to no good. We soon learn that we donít own that world that we observe from the top of the mountain, but we do have reinforced in our brains the idea that weíre something special. I mean, after all, our children adore usĖor so it seemsĖand if weíre lucky enough to have employees, theyíre obedient and admiring. Or maybe you may have some other special physical characteristic, like beautiful eyes, or hair, skin or figure; something that sets you apart. Maybe you can do the multiplication tables up to 15 X 15. Or maybe youíre a Christian. And that makes you special. Well, if you flip the coin over, maybe you consider yourself inferior and downtrodden, and God is picking on you, and youíre special in that sense. Havenít you known people who say, "Why me?", "Why is this happening to me?" As though they were some sort of special person, that whatever was happening, ought not to happen.
Did you ever know anybody who really thought he was bad? I mean, we all consider ourselves bad in the abstract, or in theory, and we all confess it. But when you get down to the particulars itís difficult for us to indict ourselves in respect as to what it was we did. You know Hitler didnít think he was bad. Hitler wrote a book,, a great long book before he came in power called Mein Kempf, in which he spelled out his political and social philosophy. He thought he could save the German race which he considered superior and that was his goal. And listen, in the unlikely event that you finally confess that you did do something bad, isnít it someone elseís fault? I mean, Adam, when confronted in the Garden of Eden by God said, itís true that I did eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil , but my wife made me do it. And when Eve was confronted, she passed the guilt on to the serpent. The serpent beguiled me (Gen 3. 9 - 13)
In the work that I do Iím sometimes involved in dispute resolution. People are fighting with one anotherĖfighting with words over something, and it all turns on what the facts were. What were the facts? If we could find out the facts we would know how to resolve the dispute. And when I was young and first involved in this process, and people came and told their stories about what had happened, my initial reaction was, somebody is lying. And often I knew who I thought was lying. But as Iíve grown older and had more experience in this work, Iíve found that in their mind, nobodyís lying. Everybody rearranges the facts in a light most favorable to themselves, and they donít even know theyíre doing it. Let me make this bold statement, and see if you agree. It is impossible for you to speak the absolute unalloyed truth about anything in which you have an interest. Because every action we take, every attitude we have is colored unconsciously by our own feeling of uniqueness. I mean, that we have a better insight, or we desire a certain result. And so we speak and act in a way that we think is appropriate , but itís always prejudiced or biased.
The answer to why David wrote the beautiful 51st Psalm is found in 2Sam.12.2. David was the King, you know, the King of Judah, a man of great power. At the zenith of his power, Nathan the prophet came to David and said to him,
There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor;
The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds;
But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb,
which he had bought and nourished up: . . .
And there came a traveler unto the rich man,
and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd.
To prepare for the wayfaring man
but took the poor manís lamb, and dressed it for the man
And Davidís anger was greatly kindled against the man;
and he said to Nathan, as the Lord liveth
the man that hath done this thing shall surely die.
And he shall restore the lamb fourfold
because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
And Nathan said to David, "Thou art the man".
David was the king, he had a lot of responsibility , he was under a lot of stress, he had done a lot of things for the children of Israel. So wasnít it his right to have Bathsheba? It didnít seem to bother David that she belonged to another man, Uriah the Hittite, who adored her; he arranged for him to be killed. And the amazing thing about it is, David didnít even know Nathan was talking about him until Nathan told him. He had what I like to call the John Sununu attitude: I mean, here was a man with special responsibilities. He worked hard and he thought he had special privileges, like riding jet planes back to Massachusetts to see the dentist. You see how easy it is to beguile ourselves.
In the 20th chapter of Numbers we read about another ancient worthy , Iím going to read from the NEB starting at the 8th verse,
The Lord spoke to Moses and said, --the children of Israel were dying of thirst, or thought they were, out in the wildernessĖTake a staff, Moses, and then with Aaron your brother assemble all the community, and in front of them all, speak to the rock and it will yield its water. Thus you will produce water for the community out of the rock, for them and their beasts to drink. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock, and he said to them, ĎListen to me you rebels. Must we get water out of this rock for you? Moses was a man with special responsibilities, and it got to him. And because it got to him, he didnít enter the Promised Land.
Job in the 12th chapter says the tents of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; unto whose hand God bringeth abundantly. (V.6) And in the 13th chapter he says, Surely, I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God. (V.3) Iím a special person, God, Iíve done right. Everybody in the community knows Iím a righteous man. And youíve done this to me and here robbers are prosperingĖand I would reason with you.
Even the apostle Paul in the 12th chapter of 2Cor.Ėagain Iím reading from the NEB, in the first 3 verses Paul says, I am obliged to boast. It does no good; but I shall go on to tell of visions and revelations granted by the Lord. I know a Christian man Ėspeaking of himselfĖwho fourteen years ago was caught up as far as the third heaven; and then in the 11th verse, he says, I am being very foolish, but it was you who drove me to it; my credentials should have come from you. In no respect did I fall short of these superlative apostles, even if I am a nobody. The apostle Paul wasnít getting any respect. And it bothered him. He was wise enough to say it was foolish that it bothered him, but it seems to me, if Iím reading this correctly, it nonetheless bothered him. Because he was special. I mean, after all, he really was special. Christ had appeared to him and given him a
special mission. Well, you get the idea. When youíre brought up short and you get the point that Iím making, this is how David realizes the truth of what Nathan has said, and writes this beautiful Psalm. He says in the 12th verse :
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Whatís he going to do?
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;
And sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Well, David has a right to say that. I mean he was teaching transgressors and converting people unto God. But the reaction he had was that when he finally discovered what Iím telling you about this morning about ourselves, was ĎI want to help you get straightí. You know, when I make a talk, Iím talking about myself, as well as Iím talking about you. But itís hard for me to realize that itís more important that I understand what I say for me then it is for you. I mean, itís hard for me to quell the desire that I need to straighten you out. In the 19th Psalm, David says,
Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse thou me from secret faults.
Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me. (V. 12, 13)
Well, what does that mean? Keeping ourselves back from presmptuous sins, we understand. I mean, if you know somethingís wrong and you go ahead and do it, then thatís a presumptuous sin. And David doesnít want to commit any of those. Now those kinds of sins are those that can be observed by others, and be criticized by them, or if secret, they are nonetheless secrets from the general public. Heís talking about cleansing me and you from secret sins. Secrets even to ourselves. There are things wrong with me that you donít even know about. And youíre never going to know about. So our prayer is, Ďcleanse me from the sins that I donít even know I have.í
And the lesson is, Be Not Wise in Your Own Conceits, as Paul told the church at Rome. And as Jesus told those who thought the Tower of Siloam fell on people because they were sinners. He said, Look! the Tower of Siloam can fall on you. Youíre nothing special, youíre not going to be saved from the vicissitudes of life. John the Baptist had his head cut off. Stephen was stoned to death. Despite the statements of some evangelists to the contrary, you donít deserve any special treatment and thereís no guarantee youíre going to get it.
Thereís nothing special about any of us ; the only thing spe cial is what we believe and what it can do for us. So I hope I can remember to include in my morning prayersĖif I remember to say my morning prayersĖnot to be wise in my own conceits. We could say, now look, weíre not going to commit Davidís sin; weíre not going to be like the horrible criminals you read about in the paper. But you donít know what youíre going to do. All you have to do is look at the starving Kurds in Iraq, fighting for food thrown off the back of a truck, and the veneer of civilization is very thin.
When you are wise in your own conceits , and you think that you canít do this that and the other, and youíre not like other men, then you canít be like Jesus. Jesus was meek and lowly. The phrase that goes through my mind about his conduct was, Ď moved with compassion he stretched forth his handí. He didnít impose any conditions. If you know your enemy you ought to be able to more than say, Ďthere, but for the grace of God, go Ií. I heard an interesting program on public radio driving home one night , the interview of an author of a book on conscientious objection. He said, in my research Iíve met all kinds of peopleĖthose that said they couldnít go to war because they were pacifists, or those who couldnít go to war because they could only fight for God, or those who concluded that self defense Ė although it was horrible and people diedĖit was necessary for order among nations. He said, but one thing I learned is that no man is purer than any other man. Weíre all made out of the same dough, and thereís plenty of yeast in that dough that we all receive in equal quantities. It is altogether appropriate then for you to esteem your fellow travelers in life as better than yourself And it is altogether appropriate for me to esteem my fellow travelers in life as better than I am.